Category Archives: Fiction

Trick or Treat? – Conclusion!

…the Holy Spirit!”

Dead silence reigned for a moment, then confusion and disbelief set in.  I had expected as much.

Joan spoke up first.  “You mean The Holy Spirit – like of God?”

“That’s exactly who I mean.  I believe you were all visited by and visited with the Holy Spirit of God tonight.  I believe He met with you as if He were in a costume, too, in order for you to feel at ease conversing with Him.”

Wolf spoke next.  “Sort of snuck up on us, I guess.  Caught us by surprise!”  He didn’t believe me yet.  He was just trying to mentally process what I was saying.

“Well, kinda like that.  But I believe He just did what He needed to do in order to get you to open up and be real with Him and to be able for once to hear from Him.”

Superman admitted that if it were true, it would explain a lot of things.  “But I still don’t believe it,” he said.  “It’s, it’s …”

“Fantastic, I know,” I said to finish his statement for him.  “But think, now.  It fits the facts.”

Joan was the college girl, the thinker, and she was processing quickly.  “Every one of us said he talked to us about us and spiritual things.”

“Come to think of it, you’re right,” said Wolf.  “And he never said anything about himself – it was all about me.”

“That’s true,” agreed the Queen.  “Not one of us ever mentioned anything about him revealing anything about himself.  He talked only to each of us about ourselves.”

“Once again, it fits the facts,” I said.  “And that would explain why Fritz and Olga didn’t see Him.  For some reason, tonight, He had only come to talk with you guests.  He opened your eyes and ears to Him.  Whenever they entered the room, there was no need for them to see or hear Him.  He wasn’t here for them.”

“Well, why not!?” asked Olga, breaking her long silence.  “What’s wrong with us?”  She was almost indignant, maybe a little hurt.

“Nothing,” I said, “nothing at all.  It was just not the right time for you.  He came after these six.”  I pointed at the guests as I spoke, trying to reassure the Hoffmans.

“I’m not saying I believe you just yet, Inspector,” said Fritz, “but it would definitely explain nearly everything.”

“I told you – it fits the facts.”

“Let me see if I got this straight,” said Rowdy.  “The Holy Spirit of God Himself came to this party tonight to talk to each of us guests, one at a time.  Since it was a costume party, He showed up like He was wearing a shiny white costume.”

“That’s what I believe,” I said to Rowdy, then looked around at the others to see if I could tell whether I was convincing anyone.  It looked to me as if they were all trying to believe it was true, but naturally were struggling.  If I hadn’t already been a believer that had seen God do many great and wondrous things, I might not have believed this myself.  I had never seen anything like this before.  Come to think of it, I didn’t actually see this.

I remembered the scripture passage where Jesus said you wouldn’t see the spirit, but like the wind, you could see where He’s been.  Though He had apparently manifested Himself to the others, I could only see where He had been and how He tried to move these young party goers.

“See how it fits the facts?  It also explains why there weren’t any other cars and why there is no trace of Him leaving just as quickly as He came,” I explained further.

“Okay,” said Big Bad, finally.  “Suppose this is for real.  Let’s assume God really did come down here and talk to us.  Then why did He leave like that?  Why did He just go away?”

“Isn’t that what you told Him to do?  All of you?” I asked.  “Was there anyone of you that wanted Him to stay?  You didn’t even want Him at the party, let alone in your lives!”

There was another dead silence.  I hoped it meant conviction.  I hoped He was back in the room even without the form.  I knew that only He could get through to them, even if He used my words.  I prayed He would not give up.

I guessed it was up to me to break the silence.  “Mr. Wolf, you said He wanted to change your lifestyle, but you weren’t interested.  I believe your testimony sums it up.  You said ‘I came here to party, not hear a sermon.’”

I referred to my notes to get it all straight.  “And you, Rowdy – just a good ol’ boy.  He wanted you to go deeper and put some meaning in your life.  You said you’re happy just the way you are – are you really?”  I paused to let that sink in, and then continued, “You told Him to go away and leave you alone – He did.”

I continued with each guest.  I reminded the Queen of Sheba that she had lots of money and possessions, but He tried to get her to see that she had little else and that she was missing out on what really matters.  She chose money over Him.  Little Bo Peep chose to stay in her comfort zone.  Her fear of change cost her and her children a chance at a relationship with God.

No one moved, no one spoke but me.  I continued down my list.  “Superman,” I said.  “You think you’ve got it all going your way.  You told Him point blank that you didn’t need anyone, not even Him.  You didn’t even notice when God walked away.”

Then I turned at last to Joan.  I couldn’t help but get a little tenderer.  She was young and beautiful and so full of life.  If only she had given God a chance.  She had so much to offer.  “And you, Joan College.  You’re so busy.  You made time for everything and everyone else, but God.  Some day all the rest will fade away – all that ‘matters to you’ is what you said.  You’ll find that He matters, too, but you turned around and He was gone.”

I gave them a moment to ponder their earlier responses.  Maybe now, if they believed the miracle, they would realize they had met with God and that would make a difference.  Then I spoke one last time.

“You all came here tonight hoping to take home a big prize.  Now that prize is gone, but worse than that – the greatest prize one could ever hope for was offered to each of you, personally, by the God of the universe.  It was truly a Trick or Treat night, but you chose to take the Trick and the Treat just went away.”

I left them standing there to think it over and without further ado, I went out to my car and drove back to the station.  On the way, I spent the time praying.  I thanked God that He loves us so much that He will do anything to try to reach us.  I thanked Him for trying to reach those young men and women at the party.  I asked Him not to give up.  I thanked Him for letting me be a part of it.

When I walked into the station, I looked at Mac behind the desk and just shook my head.  He looked me over – me in my Sherlock Holmes costume – but he didn’t say a word.  He just raised his eyebrows.  I went straight to my office, sat at my desk and took out an official report form.  Mac would need one for the files.  I sat there for a minute staring at the form, wondering what I should write.

Besides the details of the date, time, and place of the call, I decided on this: A costume Halloween party was in progress.  The guests thought one of the guests went missing.  I investigated.  Turns out the missing guest just left.  Nothing more to report.  Signed N.B. Watson, Chief Inspector.

I took the form to Mac, but he didn’t read it right away.  Instead, he asked me for the details.  I told him the whole story, every last detail, and then asked, “So?  You believe it?”

He looked right into my eyes, I guess to see if I meant what I had said or if it was some kind of Halloween joke.  I never flinched.  He knew of my faith and respected me for it, but he wasn’t a believer himself.  He said, “I don’t know.  I see you do – but I don’t know.  I’ll say this, though, it’s sure one for the books, alright.”

Then he read my report, laid it aside and looked back at me and said, “Or maybe not.”  I went home.


Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Miracle or Midnight Madness?  Truth or just a dream?  You believe what you want – people generally do.  I believe it was a miracle.  God has always had to come to men and meet them where they are.  There’s no other way, because we can’t rise to His level.  He has always had to come down to ours – to get those who will receive Him and lift us up out of our level, taking us ever higher until one day, I hope it’s soon, we’ll meet Him in the air and leave this old world behind forever!

So I think, for reasons of His own that we often can’t understand, He chose to reveal Himself to those Halloween party goers to try to get them to take off their masks and get real with God just long enough to make some right choices for a change.  Trick or Treat?  They didn’t make the right choice that night; they chose the Trick.   But who knows, maybe later they’ll take the Treat!

Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery) ( Part 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 )



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Trick or Treat? – Part 5

I strolled out of the parlor and lingered in the hall for a moment just out of sight, but not out of earshot.  Sometimes, just after the police have stepped away, people say things to each other that they didn’t say to the police.  Sometimes I hear some pretty revealing comments after I leave.  On occasion I’ve heard some pretty good clues and once I recall nearly hearing a confession!

This time it was idle chit chat, so I moved on to the kitchen where I found the Hoffmans busy with desserts and clean-up.  Olga Hoffman was muttering to herself as she marched from stove to refrigerator to counter top, to sink and back again.  Her husband, Fritz was emptying the dishwasher, refilling the cabinets with clean dishes and refilling the dishwasher with more dirty ones.  He had removed his jacket and donned an apron and he whistled while he worked.

That struck me at first as being overly cheerful for a man I had perceived to be all business and rather stuffy.  I watched from the doorway for a few moments and as they worked I noticed something.  A time or two, her mutterings became louder as if she was directing the comments to Fritz, without actually doing so verbally or even by stopping her march of chores.  However, without missing a beat himself, Fritz not only ignored her, but I noticed that when she got louder, so did his whistling!

He wasn’t being cheerful; he was drowning out his wife’s muttering!  They had worked together a long time and he knew how to handle her.  On the other hand, I suspect she knew what he was doing, but it didn’t matter.  She needed to mutter, he didn’t need to hear it.  It worked well for both.

I made my presence known and said to keep working and that I just needed to double check a few things.  I confirmed that neither of them saw or spoke to anyone dressed in a shiny white costume nor saw any other vehicles until the police arrived, nor did either one of them actually believe such a person was ever really there!

“So how do you explain all the conversations the other guests had with the man?” I asked.

Olga shrugged her shoulders as if to say “I can’t and who cares?”  Fritz spoke up.  “I can’t explain them, nor do I need to.  I searched with them because they needed the confirmation.  I called you because they wouldn’t stop this missing nonsense any other way.”  He paused as he put a stack of dinner plates in a cabinet, then continued, “And unless you’ve turned up any evidence to the contrary, I still say there wasn’t any man in a white costume here tonight – and there wasn’t any ghost here either.”

“Well, I believe someone was here tonight talking to the guests, but you’re right about it not being a ghost,” I said matter-of-factly.  “I have a couple of things to confirm with my officers out front, but unless I’m wrong, you needn’t worry about any crime.”

I turned to go out the back door, but turned back to the couple to add, “If you’ll both meet with the rest of us in the parlor in about ten minutes, please.”  I left them looking at each other rather puzzled and went out the back door to stroll contemplatively around to the front where the two officers were waiting patiently after looking over the estate.

I needed the time to re-process the testimony and evidence, or should I say lack of evidence.  What I was thinking was almost beyond belief.  Was I right, I asked myself?  It was the only logical explanation.  It answered all the puzzlements.  It explained virtually everything.  I paused at the corner of the house and looked up.

The sky was black and splattered with stars.  The autumn moon was huge and bright yellow – with maybe just a hint of orange.  It was a cool night with a gentle breeze that rustled the leaves of the many trees on that side of the house.  I thought of the scripture that said the heavens declare the handiwork of God and I marveled at His creative genius and power.

Then I thought, “Why couldn’t it be as I was thinking about this mystery?”  After all, His ways are not our ways, they are far above us.  I sensed His answer to my unspoken prayer and I knew, as strange as it seemed, that I was right on!

Just because duty demands it and I would need to cover all the bases, I strode up to the officers to put the finishing touches on the case.  They reported that they had seen absolutely nothing – no sign of anyone else and certainly no sign of any foul play.  One of them said that just to be on the safe side, they had called headquarters and had them check for any taxis in the area tonight and there hadn’t been.  That was all I needed to hear.  I told them no one was missing after all and dismissed them.

I chuckled to myself as I sauntered back up to the front door and let myself in.  I was quickly preparing my final summation in my mind, knowing that no one would likely believe me.  I believed it and I knew I was right and furthermore, the true facts supported it.  It was just so fantastic.

When I reached the parlor, I saw all the guests and the Hoffmans were present.  I stood for a moment in silence, pretending to look over my notes.  Then I explained to the strangest looking group I’d ever seen at an investigation, the strangest conclusion I’d ever drawn, in the strangest case I’d ever encountered.

“Let me begin by easing your minds by telling you that there has been no crime committed tonight.  The man in white that you all talked to is not dead nor is he missing.  He is right where he should be.”

I could see the relief on their faces and more than one either sighed or voiced their relief with “good” or “I’m so glad” or the like.  I could tell the Hoffmans still didn’t believe the man existed.  Olga looked a little confused; Fritz stood silently and smugly showing I hadn’t convinced him yet.

I raised my hand to call for attention.  “I’ll explain.  Just give me a minute.”  They each moved around a little if necessary to have me in full view.  I had everyone’s undivided attention.

“Let me first explain about the man in the white costume and who he was.  Then I can easily explain what happened to him – how and why he disappeared.  First of all, let’s consider that none of you could actually figure out what the costume was supposed to be – orderly, doctor, ghost.  You all agreed that it was bright white and shiny, even glowing.  You would be closer to the truth to say it wasn’t really a costume.”

Rowdy interrupted me saying, “You’re not suggesting he was an alien?”

As I shook my head, Bo Peep interjected, “An angel!”

“No, but you’re getting close,” I told her.

“Then what?” asked Superman.  “Who or what are you saying visited with us tonight?”

“And what happened to him?” asked the Queen.

“I think that will become apparent when I tell you who he was,” I said to the Queen.  “Before I tell you, let me say to just think about it before you react and you’ll see that it fits all the facts.  Remember that only the guests saw and talked to this man.  Neither of the Hoffmans did.  He came to talk to the six of you, and no one else.”

“How did he get here?” asked Fritz.

“You’ll know that when I tell you who he is.”  I paused for effect, then blurted out, “Your guest was….!)

(Aww – sorry, but you’ll have to wait.  You may have figured it out anyway, but wait for the ending to see it all get explained!) ( Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery) ( 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) (5) ( Conclusion! )

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Trick or Treat? – Part 4

“I’ll just go down this list of car owners, just as it was given to me, quite random, as you know,” I said in order to alleviate any sense of favoritism or suspicion.  “So,” I continued, while looking at the top of the list, “let’s start with the Big Bad Wolf.”  I figured I had just as well stick with the names of the characters for now.  After all, that’s what they looked like and that is all they knew each other by.  I had their real names and addresses now and I could always get to the real person beneath the costume later.  Right now I was only interested in the events of this one night of their lives.

I looked up from the list in my hand and saw that the Wolf had refilled his punch glass, put another sandwich on his plate, and taken a seat by the fireplace.  His wolf head mask was by his side on the floor.  I walked over toward him and said for him to stay seated and keep eating.

I sat in the chair facing him and complimented him on his costume.  “So, Mr. Wolf,” I continued, “you spoke to the guest alone at some point?”

“Yes, I did,” he replied.  “In fact, we sat here for awhile.”  He pointed with his sandwich to the two of us, indicating that he and the man had sat in the same two chairs just a couple of hours earlier.

“Was it a friendly conversation?” I asked.

“Well, it started out that way,” he said.  “Then I decided we weren’t gonna get along too well.  Didn’t agree on much.  Two different lifestyles, I guess.”

“How do you mean?” I probed for more.  If there was any foul play, I would need a motive.

“I guess you could say I chose this Big Bad Wolf costume ‘cause that’s kinda how I see myself.  Now, I don’t break the law or anything, but I do like to have a good time, and I do like the ladies.”

“And he didn’t?”

“I don’t know.  It’s just that once we got into our conversation a little deeper – well, it’s like he started trying to get me to change.  He said my drinking would just get me in trouble, that all my carousin’ around would take a toll on me, and that a steady relationship with one good woman was much more rewarding than a string of one-night stands.”

“Really?” I asked, as if that sounded strange to me, when I really agreed with it all.

“Yeah.  Can you imagine?! Weekends with no parties?  And me with just one woman?  C’mon!”

“Imagine,” I said as I took notes and didn’t even look up.  “And church?” I asked.  “I suppose he mentioned church, too?”

“Oh yeah!” said Wolf, thinking he had found a sympathizer in me.  “He said I should give it a try.  Forget the way I’ve been livin’ and try things God’s way for a change.  Phhtt!  Right – give up my lifestyle for his!”

“Then what happened?”

“Well, as I remember, I just shook my head, stood up, and walked away.  I came here for a party, not a sermon.  Never really saw him after that.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Mr. Wolf.  Just stick around.  I may need more later.”  With that dismissal, he got up and left, so I decided this might be a good place to conduct all the interviews.  I remained seated and called out for Rowdy, the cowboy.

Rowdy stepped over with a glass of punch in one hand and one of his costume pistols in the other.  He made an attempt at some fancy gun twirling and as he holstered the prop, said with a big grin, “Don’t worry, they’re not loaded.”

“Mine is,” I said to show I wasn’t impressed.

Taking the hint, he said, “Oh,” and sat down across from me.  “I don’t know what else I can add, but I’m all yours.”

“Thank you, uh, Rowdy is it?”

“Yeah, I guess for tonight it is.  Although it’s hard to get rowdy at a party with cops there, you know what I mean?”

I could tell he wasn’t taking any of this too seriously.  And maybe he was right.  Maybe nothing serious had happened.  But we weren’t sure of that yet.  “I know what you mean,” I said.  “Now, Mr. Wolf there got a little put out with our missing guest for getting a little too personal and, shall we say, intrusive.  Did you have any problem in your conversation with him?”

“Well, to be honest, I did.  Nothin’ serious, mind you, but, yeah, he kinda rubbed me the wrong way after awhile, too.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, I started once to walk away, but he stayed with me and kept talking.  He started to try to monopolize my attention.  It’s like I was supposed to focus just on him”, Rowdy explained.

“I can see where that would bother you.”

“And that’s just the beginning of it,” he continued.  “He kept after me to start doin’ spiritual things – you know – church and stuff.  Readin’ the Bible, prayin’, things like that.”

“What’s wrong with things like that?” I asked.

“Nothin’, if that’s what you want to do,” Rowdy said, “but I don’t wanna do those things.  At least not for now.  I’m happy just the way I am!”

“So what happened then?”

“I finally just said, ‘Go away and leave me alone.’  I didn’t mean to be rude, but…”

“I see,” I interrupted.  “And did you speak to him any more after that?”

“I don’t recall even seein’ him after that.”

“Interesting,” I said, adding to my notes.  “That’ll be all for now.”

Rowdy said he hoped it would help and got up and ‘moseyed’ away.  He seemed to be just a good ol’ boy – not much of a threat – not much of an asset, either.

I called for the Queen of Sheba, who was next on the list and she set her plate down on the table near where she had been standing and gracefully walked over to my interview area.  I rose to greet her as she approached and she looked so majestic that I almost bowed!  She looked and played the part well.

“Please be seated,” I said and then I complimented her on her costume and commented that she seemed to fit the part rather well.  She thanked me and said that even though it was just a costume and the jewelry was all fake, she was not unaccustomed to wealth and good breeding.

“Yet you came to a party to try to win some prize money,” I said, as if it were actually a question and I guess it really was.

“Oh, one can never have too much money,” she explained.  “And the prize was to be $50,000.00.  It’s a pity no one will get it now, but I’m quite sure none of the others would have truly appreciated it anyway.  They probably would have squandered it away soon enough.”

I sensed that she was trying to act as if she were acting the part of Sheba, yet really did feel that way.  Sarcastically, I responded, saying, “Like wasting it on college tuition or any of the hundreds of things kids want these days.”  I, of course, was referring to the other two young ladies who likely had legitimate needs for such a windfall.  It didn’t seem to faze her much.

“Well, to the business at hand,” I said.  “Did anything happen in your dealings with the man in white to, shall we say, put you off toward him?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted freely.  “He did turn me off after a short while.”

“Go on please.”

“Well, it didn’t take him long to start talking about my money, and the things I’ve bought with it.  You’d have thought it was his wealth!”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Well, he was trying, I know, to get me to think that there is more to life than money and possessions – like I don’t know that!”  She sounded indignant, but I think she was trying to convince herself, not me.

“Go on,” I said.

“He started talking about me giving money away – to churches and missions, or even just to help people,” she explained.

“You mean like Mr. Gadston, maybe?” I asked, tongue in cheek.

“Exactly!” she replied.  “There are plenty of others who want to do that sort of thing.  But I came here to win more, not give some away!”

“I see.  So then what happened?”

“Nothing, really.  I politely excused myself at some point and just walked away.  I never saw the man in white again.”

“That seems to be the pattern so far.  That’ll be all for now.  Thank you.”  We both stood and she nodded as if to dismiss me, then walked away as gracefully as she had come.  She was quite the lady, though apparently a snobbish one.  Who did she think she was anyway?  Oh, that’s right, she was.

“Little Bo Peep, please,” I called out for my next interview.  I was beginning not only to sense a pattern in these conversations, but my intuition was helping me to get an inkling of what had really happened there that evening.  However, it was too fantastic to believe, so I would need more information.

Bo Peep came over and did a little curtsy.  Maybe it was the costume and character – maybe she was every bit the lady that the Queen was.  I motioned towards the chair and said for her to please be seated.

“Shall we get right to it?” I asked and without waiting for her answer, I continued.  “All the others had some difficulty with this guest.  Nothing serious, it would appear, but certainly some uneasy conversation.  How about you?”

“I guess it was the same with me.  Uneasy, as you put it.  He started talking about all these changes he thought I ought to make.  He said I should be attending church with my kids and reading them Bible stories every night.  He said I could make new and better friends at a good church, especially if I got really involved.”

“That doesn’t sound like bad advice to me,” I offered, still taking notes.

“Maybe not,” she said, “but I don’t do changes very well.  My life may not be much by some standards, but the kids and I do okay.  I’m comfortable and that’s the way I like it.”

“And he was trying to change your life –maybe for the better.”  I was trying to get her to think it through again, because I happened to agree with the man!  Not only did those kids need the gospel and church in their lives, but Bo Peep did too.

“Well, maybe he meant well, but like I said, I don’t like change.  I told him to go try to change one of the others and he left,” she said.

“Did you see him much after that?”

She thought for a second or two, and then said, “Now that you ask, not at all.”

“I think you’d be wise to reconsider what he said, but that’s all I need for now.”  I politely stood as she rose to leave.  I noticed that as she walked away, she paused for a second, then tilted her head to one side briefly, as people often do when they’re thinking, then walked away.  I hoped that meant she was thinking about what I said about reconsidering what the man had said.

I called for Superman and he was there in a flash!  Sorry, but I had to say it.  We sat down and I flipped to a new page in my notepad.

“I appreciate how you’ve been a little more professional in this whole thing.  You seem to take things a little more seriously than Rowdy and the Wolf,” I said.

“Anything I can do to help,” he said.

“Then tell me if there was any more to your conversation with the man in white – anything negative about it – anything at all?”

“Well, we never really saw eye to eye from the beginning, but he was polite and listened to what I had to say.  I think he understood me, too, even if he didn’t agree.  Like I said, he very quickly said he felt my priorities were out of whack, but that was okay – everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, even if it is wrong.”

I had often said that same thing in jest, but he seemed to be serious.  He didn’t crack a smile, or wink, or add anything further.  I believe he really felt that the man had been wrong and he was right – Superman indeed!

“Did he offer anything to explain his position?” I asked.

“Sure,” replied Superman.  “He kept trying to get me to see I needed more and deeper relationships in my life.  Maybe even with him!  He insisted that somehow, eventually, my life was not going to satisfy me and I would need something more that my career and success couldn’t provide.”

“And…?” I said, asking for more.

“And I told him that I didn’t need him or anyone else for that matter.  Things were just fine as they are and they’re headed just the way I’ve always hoped they would.”

“Let me guess,” I stated.  “And he just walked away.”

“That he did,” confirmed the man of steel.  “And we never spoke again.  I hadn’t even noticed until someone brought it up later that he had gone.”

“I suspected as much.  That’s all for now, thank you.”  I dismissed Superman and called for my last interview, Joan College.  She bounced over to my area with a big smile.  She was having a good time and I expected she would be.  I had risen to meet her and her enthusiasm was catching.  I felt younger myself somehow.  I told her to have a seat and we both sat down.  I took my usual policeman interview pose, I guess, and she sat forward in the chair, sitting on her hands and watching my every move, as if she couldn’t wait to testify.

“Well, Miss Joan College, you seem to be enjoying yourself this evening,” I said.

“Oh, I am,” she agreed.  “I mean, I hope there’s nothing wrong with the man in the white suit, but I am having a good time now.”

“Now?” I asked, feeling there was something to the way she had said that.

“Well, I mean, like earlier I was kind of upset about him missing and all, but once you got here, I kind of settled down.”

“Good,” I said.  “I’m glad to be of some comfort.  A lot of people your age don’t seem to want us around.”

“Oh, not me,” she said.  “I enjoy older people.”

“I meant policemen.”  I knew she had said it innocently and didn’t mean anything by it.  She kind of shrugged her shoulders and smiled as if to say “oops.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “I’ve asked all the others, so I’ll ask you, too, if there was ever any bad vibes between you and the man in the white costume.  Did he ever say anything that bothered you?”

“Actually, he did,” she replied.  “He kept trying to tell me that I needed to spend more time with spiritual matters, you know, reading the Bible, getting involved with some people my age in church, do mission work, things like that.”

“And you see that as a bother?”

“Well, no, but I just don’t have time for all that, Inspector.  And I told him so, too.  I mean, like I told him, I’m a cheerleader for the men’s games, I play on the volleyball team myself, I sing in the ladies’ ensemble, and I’m on the student council and the school newspaper.  There are practices and games and I have to keep my grades up to keep my scholarship.”

“I’ll bet you barely have time to date more than three or four guys at a time,” I said with a smile.

“That’s right!” she said as she tilted her head up and back a little and flipped her hair.  “I don’t.  But anyway, the shiny white guy said that my priorities needed an adjustment and I was too busy with things that really wouldn’t matter in the end.”

“So you said…”

“So I said, they all matter to me, and that’s what counts.  And then I think I went to get more punch and when I looked back, he was gone.”

“Did you ever see him again after that?”

“No, I didn’t.  I don’t know what could have happened to him.”

“Thank you, Joan College.  I think that about does it for now.”

We both stood and she asked me if I was any closer to solving this puzzle.  I told her that I had an idea, but needed to confirm a couple of things with the Hoffmans and clear up a few small details with my officers out front.  “If all goes as I think it will, I believe we’ll be able to clear this mystery up very soon,” I concluded.

“Everyone!  If I could have your attention please,” I called.  “I’m going to confirm that neither of the Hoffmans have much to add, as I believe is the case, and then I have a point or two to clear up with the officer outside.  I’ll be back in shortly and see if we can’t have a solution.  Please stay here in the parlor until I return.”

(more to come!)  ( Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery) ( 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ) ( Conclusion! )

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Trick or Treat? – Part 3

Fritz Hoffman answered and didn’t even blink an eye or crack a smile when he saw me.  I told him who I was and he identified himself and explained that apparently, and he stressed that word, someone had vanished unexpectedly and unexplainably from Mr. Gadston’s Halloween party, so he had made the call.  I asked him what he meant when he said apparently one had vanished and he replied that he thought it best that I should find that out for myself as I questioned the others.  I said, “Alright.  Let’s do that,” and he showed me the way to the parlor where the other guests had remained together.  I noticed the air of frivolity and unconcern in the room.  Of course, I learned quickly that it had only just become that way after quite a bit of panic, confusion, and genuine concern.

The room was abuzz with chit chat and the clinking of dishes and cups as Fritz and I entered the parlor from the front entry.  No one even noticed.  Fritz interrupted the festive atmosphere speaking loudly enough to be heard above the chattering.  He called out, “Excuse me, but the police have arrived!”

All the guests immediately stopped talking, eating, and drinking to turn in silence toward the doorway to see Fritz and me standing there.  I’m not sure what they expected, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t what they saw.  You’ve waited for it – here it comes!

“You’ve got to be kidding!” cried Superman.

“Is this some kind of cruel joke?” asked the Queen.

Joan added, “Was all this planned?  It’s all just been a Halloween prank, hasn’t it?”

To which I stepped forward to make my response.  There I was, straight from my own costume party where I had received Mac’s call, dressed like none other than the great detective Sherlock Holmes!  That’s right.  The entertainment I had spoken of at the outset of my story was a costume party where each guest was to come as a famous fictional character.  Before the night was over we were all to take turns identifying ourselves and explaining why we had chosen that particular character.

“I assure you this is no joke,” I said.  “I, too, was at a Halloween party when I got the call to come here.  I didn’t want to waste time changing clothes and I figured I wouldn’t look too out of place anyway.”  Most acknowledged that fact with a nod, an “amen to that” or a “touché” and I continued.

“I also assure you that the two officers out front are equally genuine and so are our weapons, should the need arise, though I trust it won’t.”

I introduced myself and began to gather the facts of the case, much of which I’ve already shared with you, dear reader.  I’ll tell you now more than I told them, though.  My name is N.B. Watson and as I said before, I’m the Chief Inspector of the Robbery-Homicide Division.  My name is the result of my father’s warped sense of humor coupled with his lifelong fascination of all things Sherlock Holmesian.  I inherited his fondness for mysteries and that’s at least part of what led me into my profession.  I, like my father before me, have read all the stories and seen every Sherlock movie and television show I know of, regardless of who portrayed Mr. Holmes.  My favorites, as Dad’s, were the old black and white movies starring Basil Rathbone as the famous detective.

My name came from those shows. The last name being Watson is obvious, I think, even to those relatively unacquainted with the stories.  It may take a more avid fan to understand what the N.B. stands for and I won’t tell you.  Dad intended all along to have me go by my middle name and I did all the way through junior high.  Teachers understood and cooperated and to this day, only my closest friends or fellow Holmesians know what my first name is.  You know enough now to figure it out.

Anyway, when I hit high school, not really liking my middle name much either, I decided to go by my initials and soon everyone called me N.B.  Most of the time, it comes out as Enby and that’s okay by me.  The party guests and Fritz, and for that matter the two officers, just called me Inspector.

It didn’t take too long for me to find out all I have shared with you so far and it was about that time that one of the officers came in to report.  I stopped my questioning of the guests long enough to turn my attention fully to him.  “We checked all the cars and called in the license numbers like you said, Inspector.  Here’s the list and nothing looks out of the ordinary about any of the cars or owners.  No sign of any monkey business here and no wants or warrants on any of the owners.”

I took the list and thanked him.  “I’ll compare this list with the guests and you two begin to look around the estate for anything out of the ordinary.  These folks have already done that, but it’s a large estate and they could easily have missed something,” I said.

“Right,” responded the young policeman.  “What kind of costume was the missing guest wearing and are we looking for a man or a woman?

“Apparently, a man wearing a bright shiny, almost glowing, white costume.  Maybe a ghost,” I replied.

“Check,” he said without any sign of emotion as he turned and headed back to the front door.  On Halloween, not much fazes a policeman.

I called out the names of the owners of the cars along with the corresponding makes and models as if in a roll call and each guest called out a “here” or “that’s me” or some such answer.  One by one, all six guests and cars were accounted for and then I called out the seventh.  “A blue Ford Explorer, owner William J. Dixon,” I called out.

The party guests looked around and I could see that no one recognized the name, until suddenly, Fritz spoke up.  “Goodness, that’s Bill, the chauffeur!”  He paused a moment to think it through, then continued.  “Oh dear.  I’m afraid this won’t help at all.  Bill left yesterday in his own car – of that I’m sure – and I’m equally certain that he hasn’t returned.  Before he left he said that he had made a grand purchase with his bonus check and it should be delivered while he was away.  It never occurred to me that it was that vehicle.”

“You obviously didn’t see it delivered, then?” I asked, just to confirm.

“No, sir, I didn’t.  We’ve been very busy all day getting ready for the party,” he explained.

“So maybe this guy drove himself to the party, stayed awhile, and simply drove away without letting anyone know he was going,” I said.

“Not likely,” said Fritz.  “You see part of my duties as groundskeeper and party host is to check on the cars and driveway after all the guests have arrived and the party is underway.”

“Go on,” I said, always taking notes.

“After all the invited guests had arrived and I had shown them into the parlor, I helped my wife for awhile in the kitchen.  Sometime later, I’d say around 9:00, I made my outdoor rounds.  Part of my job is to check the parking situation making sure that all the vehicles were parked decently – you know, see to it that there were no fender benders, no one parked on the lawn, and making sure there’s enough room for emergency vehicles, etc.”

Rowdy interjected at this point, saying, “By that time the ol’ boy had to have already been here awhile.”

“Precisely,” continued Fritz.  “If all of you indeed had all of these separate private conversations with this person, then he must have been here when I made my rounds and there were definitely only the seven vehicles there now, parked exactly as they are now.”

I saw his point.  “So, if he had driven himself to the party, his vehicle would have been there when you made the rounds.”

“Correct,” replied Fritz, “but it wasn’t.”

Superman spoke up, saying, “That changes things a bit doesn’t it?”

“How?” asked Bo Peep, looking to me for the answer.

I let Superman handle it, though I knew where he was going with his train of thought.  “It means that the man did not drive himself to the party, so he couldn’t have left by himself either,” he explained.

“That’s right!” said the Big Bad Wolf, leaping out to the forefront.  “So he had an accomplice!”

“An accomplice to what?” I asked.

He thought for a second or two, and then said, “I don’t know.  Whatever he had in mind when he came here uninvited, I guess.”

Joan picked up from there and offered her explanation.  “Maybe he came hoping the prize money would be cash.  Maybe he planned to take it and run.”

“And that’s why he made sure we didn’t know anything about him,” added Bo Peep, as if they were really on to something.

“That’s a point I need cleared up,” I said.  “Just what is this prize money all about?  What kind of party is this anyway?”

A couple of the guests started to answer, but Fritz overrode them in force and volume.  “I think I can best explain that,” he said.  “Mr. Gadston got the idea awhile back to give away some money, $50,000.00 to be exact, and he fell upon this idea for a Halloween party.  He advertised in the newspaper for potential guests to send an application explaining why they should be one of those invited.  He chose these six people to invite.  My wife and I were to be the unknown judges of not only the best costume, but the most believable character.  By that I mean the one who did the best at actually seeming to be whom they portrayed.”

“So it is all up to you who gets the money?” asked the Queen.

As Fritz answered, “Yes,” The Wolf shouted out in fun, “I take it all back, Fritzy.  Every bad thing I said about you.  You’re the greatest!”

Fritz simply replied, “Too late, Mr. Wolf.”

Rowdy chimed in, “I told him you were a good ol’ boy, Fritz – I told him.”

“Enough schmoozing,” I said, stopping the others before they all took their shots at Fritz, too.  “Back to the matter at hand.  Can anyone at all give any evidence at all to suggest that the man in white was up to anything criminal or even strange or suspicious?”

I waited, but nothing was offered, so I continued.  “Even if this person had taking the prize money or anything else in mind, he apparently didn’t try anything out of line and then disappeared.  So here’s what we do know, or at least think we know: sometime tonight, not only after 8:00, but after the six invited guests had arrived, an unknown person in a shiny white costume, somehow arrived at the estate, let himself in – without Fritz seeing him…”

“Or my wife, either,” interrupted Fritz.

“Okay,” I said, “entered without the butler or the cook seeing him, and spent at least an hour, I’d say, chatting at one time or another to every one of the guests.  This person, without ever being seen by the Hoffmans, then either alone or with help, left the party and apparently the estate, without being seen by anyone.”

Superman spoke for the rest to confirm my summation.  “That’s pretty much it, Inspector.”

“Well, up to this point, we don’t have any evidence of a crime, but it sure is a puzzle,” I said.

At which point Rowdy tried to lighten things up a bit and said, “Yeah, but I bet ol’ Sherlock Holmes can figure it out,” he said with a grin.

Joan, a true college student and avid reader, joined in.  “Yes, Mr. Holmes.  Is it ‘elementary’ or not?”  I hadn’t noticed just how attractive she was until she posed that question with a big, beautiful smile.  Her eyes sparkled with mischief and I knew she knew at least a little bit of Holmesian lingo.

“Not quite yet, my dear lady,” I said in character, “but I’m quite sure that before this night is over I’ll come to the right conclusion of the matter.”  I winked at her and she politely winked back, as if to tell me she thought I was an okay guy for an old cop.

I told Fritz Hoffman that he could go help his wife in the kitchen if he wanted and that I would get their statements later.  I knew that neither one had seen nor spoken to the uninvited guest, so they wouldn’t have much to add.  I also knew they had been in the employ of Mr. Gadston for several years and were likely above reproach.  I always try to keep an open mind until all the facts are in, but I had no reason to believe they were involved in any wrong-doing at all.

I then told the party guests to just relax, but stay in the room.  They were free to continue eating and drinking, but I would like to interview them one at a time and for now, it was alright for them all to hear everything.  I said ‘interview’ because that is much more cordial sounding and less suspicious sounding than ‘question.’  I find it facilitates cooperation.

(More later…) ( Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery) ( 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ) ( Conclusion! )

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Trick or Treat – Part 2

No one had seen when Fritz left his post by his wife’s side and slipped into the other room to make the call.  He had only been gone a couple of minutes and was right back beside Olga before anyone even noticed.  They were all very busy discussing the brief encounters they had with the missing guest before he went missing.

“The police?!” said several of the party-goers in unison.

“What in the world for?” asked Superman.  “There’s been no crime here.  We hardly need to involve them.”

But Rowdy countered with, “Hey!  It might be fun.  Without the ol’ boy goin’ missing, this little soiree woulda been kind of a drag anyhow!”

“I’ve never cared too much for the cops,” said Big Bad, “but I guess it can’t hurt.  We sure haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I just hope they can figure out what happened,” added Bo Peep.

Olga Hoffman had listened intently to the whole discussion and up to now had not said a word.  She finally did, though, at this point, but it didn’t have anything to do with the puzzle before them.  “I had better put on some more coffee.  It could be a long night.”  Then she wiped her hands again on her apron, turned around, and marched out of the room.  Rowdy called after her.  “And how about some more of those sandwiches.  I think Big here has “wolfed” ‘em all down!”  Without hesitating or even turning to look back, Olga raised one hand in the air to signal she had heard and disappeared down the hall, presumably to the kitchen.

The Queen resumed the conversation about the missing guest.  “If it wasn’t for that seventh car out there,” she mused.

Joan chimed right in.  “I know.  Otherwise I’d say he just left, although he didn’t strike me as the kind to just leave without saying good-bye.  Did he say good-bye to any of you?”  she asked, looking around the room at each of her fellow partiers.  Each indicated that he hadn’t said a word.  No one knew the guest in the white costume was leaving.  That raised suspicions, too.

Superman took the lead now.  “So, let’s see what we actually know here.  We all saw and spoke to a seventh guest who was in some kind of bright white costume.  We don’t know what or who he was supposed to be, much less anything about the actual man.  And now he’s gone.”

Bo Peep added that no one had seen him leave and there was an unclaimed car still in the driveway.  Big Bad Wolf reminded them that they all had helped search the house and grounds and had come up empty and Joan added that neither the butler nor the cook had actually seen the guest, which to her seemed rather odd.  After all, they had all been greeted at the door when they arrived and even had to show Fritz their invitations.

“That’s right!” said Superman, retaking the lead in the investigation of evidence.  “What about it, Fritz?  You said you didn’t see the bright guy, yet you met the rest of us at the door.”

“Both statements are correct, Superman,” Fritz replied.  “I did greet all of you here in this room at the front door and inspected your invitations.  After all, there is a lot of money at stake here.  But as I said, I never saw the guest to whom you all have alluded.”

“So you’re saying that shiny little dude sneaked in here uninvited?” said Big Bad, rising to his feet – or paws.  “Why that big fraud!  All that uppity talk about goodness and such.”

“I’m not saying that exactly,” said Fritz, referring to the comment about sneaking in uninvited.

“So what are you saying, exactly?” Joan asked.

“I’m saying only what I’ve already said – that I never once saw the guest of whom you all have spoken.”  Fritz waved his arm around the room as he said it as if to point out that they were all of one mind and he was of another mind entirely.

At that, Rowdy stepped out and a little forward to face Fritz.  “Are you saying we’re all lying?  That for some reason we’ve all made up this whole thing?”

“I don’t believe I said anything of the kind.  All I’ve actually said is all I actually know – and that is that I never saw this guest that you all said you did and therefore I certainly cannot say how or why he came to be here or leave.”  Fritz was very clear, very calm, and very right.  He wasn’t going to fly off the handle and jump to any conclusions nor accuse anyone of anything.  He knew his job and his responsibilities and he did them well.

“Well, we all know what we saw and what we heard and that ol’ boy was here!” replied Rowdy, a little calmer, but still defensive.

“True,” added Superman.  “But, as sure as we all are about that, we don’t know much else.”

Joan replied, “That’s true, too.  But we do all agree that the man was here, invited or not, and we all saw and spoke to him.”

The Queen spoke again.  “Yes, that much we can agree on and it doesn’t appear that we can add much to that, except that he’s gone now and we don’t know how or why.”

Bo Peep had long since crossed the room and sat down.  She was obviously a little more shaken up than the others.  “Maybe the police will be able to track this person down after they get here and check things out,” she said at last.

“Yeah,” added Big Bad.  “They can get the name of the owner of that other car out there and find out if he is at home now.”

“That’s right,” said Superman rather confidently.  “Let them sort it out.  Let the ghost explain why he didn’t take his own car when he left.”

But Rowdy quickly pointed out that that was “if” the man left the estate.  “Maybe,” he continued, “somebody knew he was a ringer, not a real guest, and got rid of him!”

Joan nearly squealed as she stood up, for she too had taken a seat earlier.  “What are you talking about?  You think somebody here did something to him?”  She was pretty excited – maybe it was the cheerleader in her.

“Now it’s getting interesting,” Big Bad said, almost with glee.  “C’mon!  Which one of ya did it?” he added playfully.  He didn’t really believe it; he just wanted to rile the girls a bit – have a little fun.

Rowdy hadn’t really been serious either, but taking his cue from Wolfie, he kept up the game.  “That’s right.  You might as well confess now and save us all a lotta trouble.”

Bo Peep was really starting to get scared now.  “You can’t possibly think any of us would do anything like that, can you?”

The Queen went over to stand by Bo Peep and tried to calm her.  “They’re not serious, Bo.  They’re just having a little fun with us.”  She paused a moment, then decided to turn the tables on them and added, “Besides, it was quite clear that any one of the men disliked the man more than we ladies.  If anyone did anything, it was one of them.”

Joan, more relaxed now, saw what the Queen was doing and joined right in.  “That’s right!  None of them would think anything at all of eliminating their competition for the money – or for us women!”

“As if they could have any of us women,” added the Queen.

“Alright,” said Superman, trying to bring civility back to the group.  “Nobody really thinks any of us did anything wrong here.  Let’s not get upset.”

“Yeah,” said Rowdy.  “We were just havin’ a little fun.  It is a party ya know!’

Everyone seemed to calm down a little after that and relax again, even get more punch or food.  Olga came in almost as if on cue with a tray of sandwiches.  Placing them just so on the table, she turned and left, saying, “Coffee will be done in a minute.”

Rowdy headed for the sandwiches telling everyone to get theirs before Wolfie got to them again.  Wolfie jumped up and headed that way and Rowdy hollered, “See?!”

A little laughter helped ease the tensions, too, and it looked like the party was somehow going to just go on as if nothing had happened at all.  They didn’t know it yet, but the police had arrived outside.  Since there was no emergency, the squad car had approached without a siren and two uniformed policemen had gotten out.  They paused to look over the estate and the line-up of cars in the driveway that had prevented them from getting too close to the front door with their squad car.  They saw head lights coming up the drive and waited to see who was coming.

It was me and that brings us back to where I started with the story.  You’ll remember, dear reader, that I had said that none of us knew the whole story yet and armed with only what Mac and the police dispatcher had told us, we began the investigation.  The officers began to carry out my instructions and I rang the bell at the front door.

(To be continued…Trick or Treat? – Part 3) ( Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery) ( 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ) (Conclusion! )

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Trick or Treat? (A short-story mystery)

(I wrote this with lots of dialogue because I wanted to do it as a play.)

I honestly don’t know if the story I’m about to tell you is true or not.  I believe wholeheartedly, well, most of the time, that it is.  However, since I made no official report of it at the time and have not once since either spoken to or heard of any of the participants, I must admit to occasional doubts myself.  But it is just too realistic to have been a dream.  The details are way too, well, detailed.  The people involved were too vivid not to be real.  The story needs to be told and, real or not, the truths gleaned from its telling are far too valuable to keep to myself and are certainly worth your consideration.  So, here is my story.

It happened, either for real or in my head, on Halloween night.  As I said, I believe it really happened, so we’ll proceed from that viewpoint.  Halloween was on a Friday that year.  Not that it matters to the story, but it mattered to me at the time.  It meant that I was only on call, not on duty and that not having to work the next day, I didn’t have to worry about being out late that night.  I’m Chief Inspector of the Robbery – Homicide Division of a sprawling Midwest city.

Now, I’m not a wild reveler, but I do enjoy a variety of entertainments, and it being Halloween, had decided to attend a very interesting party at a friend’s.  It was there that I received the call from headquarters.

I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket and took it out to see who was calling.  It was indeed a call from the front desk, so I quickly exited the party to the back patio to take the call.  I knew Sergeant James McGinness was at the desk so I answered, “Yeah, Mac.  What’s up?”

Mac was a big Irishman who had seen more than his share of crimes over the years, but due to his age and some chronic ailments had gladly been reassigned to a desk job to finish out his time until retirement.  “I knew you’d want this one,” he said and began to give me the sketchy details as he had been given them.

As Chief Inspector I only had to take certain calls when not on duty.  There were three kinds of crimes I would be called about.  Certainly, the crimes that were considered to be heinous, grisly, or sordid were mine.  Secondly, I would be called to those that, at least on the surface of things, would appear to be virtually unsolvable.  And then, as per my personal instructions to those who worked under me, I wished to be called to any crime whose details were so bizarre that I “just wouldn’t want to miss it!”

Mac said this case was one of those for sure.  Whether it turned out to be either of the other kind remained to be seen.  After giving me the basic details over the phone, Mac added, “I wish I was going on this one with you.”

I promised him all the details after I had learned them myself, excused myself to the host, and left the party.  Mac had given me an address and I knew just where it was.  I had never been there before, but had driven past it many times.

The address was 1200 Oakridge Drive.  The drive was through an exclusive neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, named for a low rising wooded ridge that served to separate the neighborhood physically and visually from the city itself.  The ridge was of course filled with large oak trees and the drive ran parallel to it, with several estates along either side.  The larger estates were across the drive from the ridge rather than backing up to it.  None of the larger ones were less than ten acres and 1200 Oakridge Drive was one of the largest.

It belonged to multi-millionaire Philip Paul Gadston who made his first million in computer software and then expanded into a wide variety of business ventures extending his fortune considerably.  I had met the man once on the occasion of one of his many philanthropic endeavors.  Though extremely wealthy, extremely busy, and seldom in town, Gadston was quite generous and much of that was local.

He was known, however, for the odd ways he chose to determine to whom and how much he would donate.  The time I met him was when he donated money to build an inner city park in one of the less fortunate neighborhoods of our city.  He promised to give a thousand dollars for every free throw that the worst basketball shooter in the neighborhood among its twelve year olds could make in the span of ten minutes.  The whole neighborhood and half the city turned out to the old run-down park to watch.

A contest had been held earlier to determine the worst shooter and I was there as a representative of the city and one of those who would publicly thank Gadston for his donation.  The kid was a scrawny little bookworm-looking boy who didn’t seem to know his way around the park, much less a basketball court.  At the halfway point he had made twenty free throws and Gadston hollered out, “I’ll double it if you make fifty!”

The crowd roared and a few of the neighborhood ‘toughs’ ran out to help rebound for the boy and to cheer him on.  It was an amazing thing to watch how the community seemed to come together all of a sudden and I suspect that is why Gadston had done it that way.  Well, he had to donate one hundred thousand dollars that day!  And I happen to know that later he gave even more.

Another time he offered to pay for the college tuition of the boy with the lowest Grade Point Average of his graduating high school class, provided the boy could graduate from college with at least a 2.75 GPA.  The boy had to sign a promissory note that if he didn’t finish college or have at least that GPA when he did graduate, he would have his wages garnished at whatever job he did get until the debt incurred at that point was paid off.  One young man took him up on the offer and the story goes that Gadston not only had to pay the four years of college tuition for the boy, but followed through to pay for the young man’s Master’s Degree.  Today, he is the Chief Accountant in one of Gadston’s more lucrative enterprises!

This time, Gadston for some reason had chosen a Halloween party as the venue for one of his philanthropic whims.  He wouldn’t even be there himself, as he was off gallivanting through Europe somewhere.

As I drove up the Bradford pear tree lined driveway to the house for the first time, I tried in the darkness of that Halloween night to take in all the details I could see.  The drive was decently lit by the evenly spaced lampposts along either side, but most of the park-like lawn was too dark to see.  As I approached the front of the house, the driveway widened and circled a flower garden with a lighted fountain in its center.  A four-car detached garage sat off to the right as I came to the house and behind and to the right of that was a small, but neat cottage that I learned later housed the couple who served as caretakers of the estate, butler and cook.  A chauffeur lived in a modest apartment above the garage, which they all called the carriage house.  Since Gadston was away, the driver wouldn’t be needed and wasn’t even there that night.

I counted seven cars in the driveway, besides a squad car, and the whole house, both inside and out, was well lit.  One of the officers met me as I got out of my car.  He gave me a curious look and stifled a laugh before asking what I knew already.  I told him and he said they had only just arrived a minute before me and didn’t know any more than I did.  I told him to make a list of the cars by make and model and license number and confirm ownerships. I imagine you’re wondering why the curious look and stifled laugh from a fellow officer, especially an underling, but you’ll have to wait for it!

My investigation revealed the events and conversations that led to our being called there to Gadston’s estate that night, but I’ll tell them to you as they happened, rather than as answers to my questions.

Gadston had thrown a masquerade party to which he had invited only a few guests.  He himself wouldn’t be there, but it would be hosted and served by his butler and cook.  The party started at 8:00 p.m. and the circumstances that led to our being called at 10:00 had also led to everyone being out of the main parlor at the same time for the same reason, as you shall see.

At about 10:05, two of the guests re-entered the parlor discussing the events.  Remember, it was a costume party.  The cowboy spoke first, as he headed for the punch bowl to get another glass of punch, “I really don’t know what all the fuss is about,” he said.  “Would you care for a glass?”

The young lady, probably about twenty years old, dressed in a cheerleader outfit replied that she would and then, in response to his first statement, said, “One of us is missing, that’s what all the fuss is about!”

The cowboy handed the cheerleader her glass of punch and took a sip of his own.  “Not necessarily,” he replied.  “Just because we don’t know where he is, doesn’t mean he is actually missing.  We haven’t heard from the others yet and he could be found most anywhere in the house – or on the grounds.”  He took another sip of punch and on a more personal note, said, “I like your outfit by the way,”

“Thank you,” she responded with a slightly flirtatious smile.  “I’m Joan College tonight.  Not only am I a cheerleader, but I represent ‘all things collegiate!’ She shook her head backwards and upwards, flipping her blond hair, and laughed a little.  “And you?” she asked.

“I’m just a good ol’ cowboy,” he said.  “Why, I’m the rootin’est, tootin’est, sharp shootin’est man the West has ever seen!” he added, with all the western sounding voice he could muster. “Why I can outride, outrope, outshoot and outlove anybody you’ve ever known!” he added with a wink.  “And you can call me Rowdy.”  All that talking must have made him thirsty, so he took another drink, then added in his natural tone of voice, “But I still say there’s nothing to get all excited about with our so-called missing guest.”

Joan took a drink of punch and said, “I hope you’re right.”

Just then Superman hopped into the room, planted his feet firmly in place and putting his hands on his hips stared straight at the cowboy and cheerleader and reported, “No sign of him anywhere in the house.  We looked everywhere – and of course you know, I can even see through walls!”

Joan College turned to Rowdy and said, “See?!  I told you he’s missing.”

Rowdy tried not to laugh at Superman’s’ behavior and report and asked, “Can you also see through costumes?”

Joan punched him in the arm, knowing full well what he was getting at.  “Where are the others?” she asked, turning her face back toward the young man dressed as Superman.  She couldn’t help but notice that he fit the part: tall, quite muscular, dark hair, blue eyes, and pearly white teeth that showed through a very nice smile.  He noticed her notice him and that made him smile.

“They’ll be along in a second or two,” he said.  Then he assumed his Superman persona and added, “Naturally, I’m faster than they are!”

Joan played along.  “Oh, that’s right.  Faster than a speeding bullet!” she quipped.

Rowdy quickly drew his Colt 45 from its holster and said, “Not one of my bullets!”

They all laughed as two more guests and the cook entered the room.  The cook was around sixty years old with short grey hair.  She was short, too and rather plump.  She wore a nice white uniform dress with an apron still tied around her waist – it, too, was white, but had blue trim and some hand embroidered flowers of various colors and sizes on it.  Her shoes matched her outfit; she had no hat.  She waddled into the room ahead of the other two guests as if they were following her, but by now they were comfortable with their surroundings and just happened to still be walking behind her.

Mrs. Olga Hoffman, that was the cook’s name, nervously wiped her hands with her apron and silently shook her head to signal to the others that they hadn’t found the missing guest.  Of course, Superman had already reported and he had been with that group.

Mrs. Hoffman had guided him and the other two as they searched the entire house.  The other two guests entered the parlor behind her.  It was a queen dressed in the fanciest of royal gowns and Little Bo Peep, shepherd’s crook and all!

Bo Peep spoke first, “We didn’t find him, nor see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Don’t worry,” mocked Rowdy.  “He’ll come home, wagging his tail behind him.”

That remark brought another punch in the arm from Joan, showing her disapproval and veiled amusement.  The queen spoke up with an authoritative tone saying, “Not funny, Rowdy!”  They had apparently already been introduced to each other.

Superman chimed in, “Who do you think you are?  The Queen of Sheba?”

To which she raised a dainty jewel-studded scepter and said quite majestically, “As a matter of fact, I am!”  Her gown was a beautiful lavender color, full and floor-length, with sleeves that were puffy on the top, yet tapered to button snugly at her wrists.  A sparkling tiara adorned her long silky black hair.

Bo Peep stepped back and curtseyed and said, “Thank you, ma-Lady.”

Joan College took another sip of her punch and asked the others what they all thought.  No one had any real idea about the mysterious disappearance of one of the guests, though each in turn offered various harmless suggestions, such as “Maybe he wandered off out on the grounds somewhere,” or “He probably just tired of the party and went home without telling anyone.”

Someone suggested he might have gone out to his car for a break and fallen asleep, but Rowdy reported that he and Joan had checked all the cars, just to be sure, and there was no sign of him.  Joan added that before Mr. Hoffman and Wolf had headed out to check the grounds, he had opened the carriage house for them to search and he wasn’t there either.  The fact that he had to unlock the door suggested that they wouldn’t find anyone, but they looked just the same.

The Wolf that Joan had referred to came bounding through the front door about that time with Mr. Hoffman, the butler close behind him.  The thirtyish young man in the wolf costume was carrying his wolf mask under one arm and his long bushy tail was draped over the other one.  The mask was that of a cartoon-looking wolf with big sharp teeth and a long pink tongue hanging out its mouth and huge bugged out eyes.  He was clearly the Big Bad Wolf!  “Nothing!” was all he said as he went straight for the punch bowl, letting his tail drop to drag along behind him, now that he had cleared the front door.

His path to the punch bowl took him between the Queen and Bo Peep, forcing them to make room for him to pass.  “Excuse me ladies,” he said as he eyed each one in turn on his way through.  He then looked over at Joan and growled a little as he walked past her.  Setting his wolf head on the table, he began to get himself a glass of punch and asked, “Anyone else want one?”

The Queen, in character, said, “You may serve me, Mr. Wolf,” and she stepped over closer to the table.

“You can call me Big Bad,” he replied as he dipped her a glass of punch.  “Or just plain Bad, if you like,” he added with a wink as he handed her the glass.  He downed his punch and got a refill.

“How about you, Fritzy?” he asked, looking past the others toward the butler.  “We must’ve walked a couple of miles out there.”

Fritz replied, “No thank you, sir,” and walked over to stand next to his wife.

Wolf was working on his second glass of punch when Bo Peep asked, “So did you find him – or anything?”

Wolf lowered his glass to report, “Not a thing.  And we covered a lot of ground out there.  Fritzy got us flashlights and we hollered all around – but nothing.”

Fritz spoke up.  “There is lots of ground out there and plenty of places one could hide if one wanted not to be found, but we saw no sign of anyone anywhere,” he reported, sounding rather stiff and formal.

The Queen sipped her punch daintily, and then asked, “Now what?”

Rowdy said, “I suggest we forget about him and go on with the party.  It’s clear he just left.”

Superman said, “But you checked the cars.  How many were out there?”

Joan spoke up first saying, “Seven.  And there are six of us here.”

Superman looked at Fritz and Olga and asked, “What about your vehicles?”

Fritz replied that their personal auto was parked by their quarters and Mr. Gadston’s collection was all accounted for in the carriage house.  He said the chauffeur had his own car, but had left yesterday in it and wasn’t due back for two more days.  The seventh car was strange to him.

Rowdy pulled a slip of paper out of his shirt pocket and held it out.  “You all told us which car was yours before we went out to check them and they’re all there, plus one,” he said with an air of finality on the matter.

But Joan added her two cents worth anyway.  “So the other car must belong to our missing guest.”

“What was he supposed to be anyway?” asked Wolf.

“I don’t know,” said the Queen.  “With that white outfit, I thought maybe he was a doctor or something.”

Superman said he thought maybe the guy was supposed to be one of those orderlies that come take people away to the nut house.

Bo Peep added, “His costume was so bright it almost scared me when I first saw him.  I figured maybe he was supposed to be a ghost.   But his manner put me at ease right away.”

Joan agreed with Bo Peep and added that he was a real gentleman.  “Not at all like the guys at school,” she said.

Wolf took that personally and spoke up for himself.  “I don’t know about that.  He sat right there with me and let me go on and on about – well, girls.”

Sensing that the honors of her and the other two female guests may have been besmirched, Joan asked “What girls?”

Bo Peep joined in asking, “Yeah, Wolfie, what girls?”

The Big Bad Wolf hesitated, then replied, “Well, if you must know, you girls.”

“And did he chime in with you?” asked the Queen.

“Not exactly,” said Wolf, “but he did agree that you all looked good tonight.”

“Is that all?” asked Joan.

“Well, he kept trying to talk about relationships and all and said exactly how we ought to treat women – with respect and kindness and such.”

“Oh?” said Joan trying to get more from the Wolf.

“Yeah, and he said there was nothing like being in a loving, caring, intimate relationship with the right one,” said Wolf and to show he was through talking he sat down and worked on a sandwich.

The Queen looked at the other two girls and said simply, “A gentleman.”  They all agreed.

Superman spoke up.  “I don’t know about that, but I had a good little talk with him myself.  He was friendly enough, but a little strange.”

“What was strange about him – I mean besides that shiny white costume?” asked Bo Peep.

“Well, he asked me a lot about myself – you know, what I do for a living, how I spend my spare time, what my interests are…”

The Queen interrupted Superman with a mocking tone and said, “Boy that is strange.  Imagine anyone polite enough to ask about the other person instead of only talking about himself.”

“No, that’s not it,” objected Superman.  “We just didn’t see eye to eye at all.”

“So what did you tell him?” asked Joan.

“Oh, I told him how I’m starting to get all the things I’ve always wanted – a nice car, a big TV, nice stuff, you know.  And I can afford to go to all the nice places.  After all, I work hard and I work smart and I’m going places.”

Joan didn’t think the gentleman would have agreed so she asked, “And did he agree with all that?”

Superman hesitated a little, then replied, “No, not really.  He said none of those things were bad, but I just shouldn’t put such emphasis on them.  There were more important things in life, he said.  Aah, he just didn’t get it.”  Then he stepped back a little toward the punch table, as if to yield the floor to anyone else.

The Queen took the cue and spoke up.  “I don’t know what to think of him either.”  She waved her scepter in the direction of the double doors that led to the patio.  They were closed now that the late hour had ushered in the cool October breeze.  “We chatted over by the patio doors for awhile.  At first we talked about the costumes, the colors, and the way each of you reacted to each other – the looks and the gestures, not just the words.  He seemed to understand a lady’s point of view – most men don’t.”

Rowdy interrupted her asking, “So that makes him a great guy?”

“Well, no actually.  He was right with me on the costumes and colors, but he was careful not to say anything judgmental about anyone.  That makes him a great guy!”

“I agree with the Queen and Joan,” said Bo Peep.  “Definitely a gentleman.  Like I said, I was almost scared by the brightness of that costume at first.  I thought maybe he was supposed to be a ghost – but he didn’t have anything over his face – and ghosts don’t smile, do they?”

Rowdy gave his cavalier answer to that, saying “I guess it depends on what they’re thinking about!”

“Yeah,” said Wolf.  “You can be mean and still smile.”

“You should know,” chided Joan.  “Go on, Bo.  Did you think he was mean like a ghost?”

“Not at all. We talked about kids – I have two you know – and how I have to juggle work and day care and raising the kids by myself and still try to have some alone time.  He seemed to understand how hard it is for me without a husband.  I felt like he really cared.”

Rowdy almost interrupted her, but she finished just as the cowboy offered his opinion.  “I really couldn’t say what the ol’ boy was, but I do agree he was a nice guy.  He asked me what I liked to do and how I spent my time.  He asked me what bars I go to and what kinda music I listen to – stuff like that.”

Fritz Hoffman finally stepped forward and spoke up.  “Well, I never even saw the guest myself – ghost or doctor or whatever he was.  And it appears that you all are divided on whether he was a gentleman or not and you give compelling reasons for your opinions.  The fact remains, though, that the guest in the bright white suit has vanished.  I took the liberty of informing the police a few minutes ago and they should be arriving shortly.”             (To be continued…Trick or Treat – Part 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ) ( Conclusion! )

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